Incline Village, Nevada Amy Simpson is pleased. Her mother has bestowed the ultimate compliment to her food, proclaiming it "piping hot." "We pride ourselves on that," Simpson exclaims, her blond ponytail bobbing. "People who come here like to eat slowly and chat. If the food is served lukewarm, it won't make it to the end of the meal." She has more than the temperature of her food to be proud of. Jack Rabbit Moon, the edgy little restaurant she owns with pastry chef Sara Quessenberry in Incline Village, is a gem. A copper-topped bar anchors the dining room. Walls are a painted garden of artichokes, peppers and beets. Fifteen copper tables fill the space in between. Barely in their 30s, the two women met in a demo kitchen at the California Culinary Academy. After they graduated and worked a few years in Lake Tahoe restaurants, the duo toured ski towns in search of the perfect spot to open their own place. They ended up back in Tahoe. n "Aspen is great, but Tahoe has everything," says Simpson. "This area offers San Francisco, Napa Valley, skiing. Plus, the level of sophistication is rising, so we're getting better products." n As chef, Simpson concentrates on preparing clean, simple, comfort food. "Food should look like what it is," she insists. "One of the most distracting aspects of dining is getting a dish that's so architectural you have to knock it down to eat it."
She plates her Caesar salad like romaine lettuce grows-with the larger leaves on the bottom and smaller leaves on top. Fresh sea bass receives a rosemary-crumb crust and a side of braised leeks. Citrus chicken is roasted with garlic, raisins and pine nuts and served over grilled polenta. For dessert, Quessenberry adds homey offerings such as semi-sweet brownies and warm pear tarts topped with cinnamon ice cream.
Reflecting on the success of their three-year-old restaurant, Simpson beams with the optimism of a young entrepreneur. "The place has been well-received and that energy is infectious," she says. "Who cares if we don't make a ton of money. The attitude is the thing."
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